AECBytes Architecture Engineering Construction Newsletters  

AECbytes Tips and Tricks Issue #2 (January 19, 2006)

Master Layouts in ArchiCAD's PlotMaker

Ransom Ratcliff
Architectural Modeling Consultant, AEC Infosystems, Inc.

PlotMaker is the layout composition portion of the ArchiCAD application suite. It helps you bring a variety of content together, compose its organization on a page, and manage the pages in a layout book.

One way that PlotMaker helps you is with the automation of repetitive or tedious tasks. For example, repetitive elements such as the title block and sheet border can be added automatically to each new page, as the book grows. In order to make this feature a truly powerful one, PlotMaker can automate the variations to this repetitive content, based on your standards for nomenclature and organization. This logic can be flexibly applied at the drawing, sheet, and book levels.

One tool for this automation is the "master layout." In order to understand where master layouts fit in the scheme of your layout book, let's first look at the way a PlotMaker layout book is structured.

We can have as many layouts as we want in the book and each layout references a master layout of your choice.

Title types are automatic drawing titles that can display the drawing number, drawing tile, drawing scale, etc.

To modify the settings for any of the above items, just right-click on its icon and choose Master Layout Settings. (Note that you can also create a new master layout this way.)

The Master Layout Settings dialog is shown next.

In Step 2 above, we can optimize the master layout for printing or plotting, but if we choose to print, the process of getting hard copy and PDFs will be similar to that in other common office applications. Besides, most "plotters" are actually just big printers, but most common office printers cannot pose as plotters.

The minimum margins of your printer or plotter are automatically read from the driver, so it is easy to draw border lines at known distances from the edges of the paper while seeing that they fit within your device's printable area.

Layouts with details may benefit from an automatic drawing grid. The grid will automatically inform the drawing titles what their drawing number should be. These will, in turn, inform all the drawing references in the rest of the book as to the current detail number and layout number.

What you draw on the master layout is up to you. Typically, you will draw a border and title block.

Text in a master layout can be either static or populated from the drawing or project information. Static text might include "Sheet __ of __" or your company name. Populated text includes numbering, names and project info.

PlotMaker has the ability to add AutoText, which is a system by which it uses information in each layout, drawing, or subset, and displays that information on that sheet. For example, if a subset is called "Plans" and a layout in it is called "First Floor," the AutoText can be set to take that information and place it on the layout sheet.

To add AutoText, first make sure you are on the Master Layout and in the Text tool.

The choices in the Insert AutoText popup list are divided into four sections, top to bottom.

1. Layout and Subset Names and Numbers
2. Layout and Layout book file information
3. Current Time
4. Book Info (Under the Book menu)

After the AutoText is selected, the Master layout properly displays what has been chosen.

Left-licking outside of the box reveals that the text is not yet defined. This is because the value is based upon information in the layout, not the master.

When any layout is double-clicked, the correct information will appear in the textbox. The default setting is to have the master information grayed out on each layout. This can be changed by going to the Options menu, then Preferences, then Miscellaneous: "Color of Master Items on the Layout"

The LAYOUTNUMBER variable is controlled by the subset and layout settings. Right-click on any layout or subset in the Navigator and select Layout or Subset Settings from the bottom of the list, to open one of these dialog boxes.

Remember, different master layouts can have different information. For example, if a consultant's logo is needed on a few sheets and nothing else will change, make a copy of one of the master layouts, one with the logo and one without. Sometimes a blank master is needed for a cover sheet only.

With a good set of master layouts, a company template can efficiently automate the layout book from the first preliminary design set to the final record documentation set. The key point is that we are harnessing the computer to do the part that is least interesting, and probably the most error-prone.

About the Author

Ransom Ratcliff has been working with virtual building concepts at AEC Infosystems since 1997. He has been using the virtual building model to produce construction documents for residential and commercial buildings since 1996. His interest in architecture and computers is tempered by his four years experience as a general contractor. He has a BA in Government & Politics and BS in Architecture from the University of Maryland.

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